Friday, March 18, 2016

Siri, Why Aren't You A Better Person?

Siri is a terrible person. Just ask Sara Wachter-Boettcher, because Sara has hopped on the Outrage Train and aimed herself right at the heart of Siri and Apple and Tech. If you’ll permit me mansplaining for her, I’ll sum up her outrage (or, click the link above to read her words directly):
If you ask Siri for help in matters of sexual harassment, assault, or rape, Siri is going to prove herself a very bad friend, assistant and advisor. And that, people, is criminally unforgivable and a sign of how evil Tech Companies are.
Two very real concerns that I don’t believe are expressed in her very not-even-handed complaint here.

First, I would imagine that Apple and companies in similar circumstance put themselves at far greater risk of lawsuit — not to mention more harsh criticism — by attempting to do what is being demanded here. Can you imagine the outrage of Siri if Apple were to claim, or allow others to proclaim, that she can be used in moments of crisis or emergency yet failed to live up to that new level of expectation? Anything less than a 99.99% success rate on that feature is a failure. How long do you think it takes between Siri being designed for this kind of interaction and the class action lawsuit for every. single. time the device somehow fails to deliver acceptably on that promise? If you know anything about this country and lawsuits, you know the answer is “less time than it took you to ask Siri where the nearest gas station is.”

Second, I predict the list of “real life” scenarios Siri is not at present ready to respond to is mind-numbingly large and endless. And all of these are matters where some nuanced and delicate — to the point of being almost impossible — handling is absolutely, positively essential.

“Siri, why do some men like pictures of naked children?”
“Siri, what if I’m actually a woman in a man’s body?”
“Siri, should I get an abortion?”
“Siri, is someone in the hotel room next to me recording me?”
“Siri, my mommy hits me real hard. What should I do?”
"Siri, can I kill my boss/neighbor/wife without getting caught?"

Are we really going to judge Siri's effectiveness or importance on these examples? I’m not being glib or clever here. In fact, this is all very, very serious. Which is precisely why I don’t believe the answer is to go down the road of expecting a smartphone app with very limited artificial intelligence to provide any sort of meaningful balm or solution.

It’s a f*#king computer. It reigns supreme on retrieving granules of data from a beach of data. You need to find the nearest McDonald’s? You want to know what the #1 song in 1986 was? You want to know what times that new Cloverfield movie are showing? No problem. You wanna call a rape or suicide or child abuse hotline? No problem.

But it ain’t a therapist, or a consultant, or a friend. You want comfort? Support? Encouragement? That’s human. That requires a human. Or, at the least (for you anthropomorphizer pet lovers out there), a living organism. To allow yourself outrage about what Siri won’t do in moments of rape crisis is like being upset that Lassie wouldn’t know to help Timmy if he were being molested by his father. Lassie isn’t being a terrible dog; Lassie is just being a dog.

Except in this case, if Siri tries to help, Apple likely risks massive lawsuits if Siri fails to prove helpful enough in all circumstances at all times.

Welcome to humanity, Siri. You’re damned if you don’t, and likely double-damned if you try but don’t succeed. Trust me: you’re better of staying a collection of code in that phone. You're a terrible person. Enjoy not having to actually feel emotions based on their outrage when you let them down and don't even mean to.

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